How a "Mayday" rescued the PGA

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Texas becoming new ground zero for golf
Posted on
May 18, 2022
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Southern Hills Country Club. Courtesy: Mike Klemme

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes


TULSA, OK. It's been said timing is everything. Whether in life generally or in sports specifically, the calendar plays a crucial role in maxing out eyeballs that tune in for any event. Think about such key events as March Madness for collegiate basketball; the first Saturday in May for the Kentucky Derby; the Memorial Day weekend; to the Indy 500, to name just three of note.

The PGA Championship has long been the odd man out when golf's grand slam is assessed. The event has gone through a series of changes over the years -- specifically the format which originated as match play and then wisely converted to stroke play in 1958 as television led the way in adding considerably more viewership.

The brain trust of the PGA of America opted to place their flagship event in August. And with the exception in 1971 when the event was hosted in February in Southeast Florida the August time frame remained in place.

Various marketing attempts were made over the years. The most notable was the campaign slogan, "Glory's Last Shot" -- a reference to the final major of the golf season. There were successes at certain times -- the most noted being the electrifying mano-o-mano battle between Tiger Woods and journeyman professional Bob May in 2000 at Valhalla in Louisville, KY.

But the August time frame was a chore too. The clubs hosting often had to deal with stress on turf from prolonged heat and humidity. Getting needed volunteers to help in all facets of the event was also difficult because the time of year often collided with planned summer vacations.

"Mayday" rescued the PGA
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While the leadership of the PGA of America was able to secure more established clubs it always seemed the PGA Championship was simply lacking not only an engaged audiences in the States but especially internationally. Despite its long history -- having commenced in 1916 -- the championship was viewed by many as just another 72-hole event with nowhere near the luster of the Masters or the prestige of the U.S. Open and The Open Championship, respectively.

All of that changed with an announcement in 2017 involving the PGA Tour and PGA of America.

In a series of joint moves the PGA Championship took the calendar spot occupied by The Players Championship in May and the flagship event for the PGA Tour returned to its former position in the month of March.

The PGA Tour also benefited in moving the conclusion of the Fed-Ex Cup Playoffs from the middle to end of September to the conclusion of the Labor Day holiday. The reasoning was totally sound -- golf could not compete even remotely with the National Football League or college football and getting the playoffs and Tour Championship to an earlier spot on the calendar provided a better possibility in establishing a firmer foothold for overall attention.

The joint announcement also opened the door to a wider variety of host sites -- especially in America's heartland and southern areas. With the United States Golf Association (USGA) locking up high profile clubs on the east coast (Oakmont, Pinehurst, Shinnecock Hills and Merion) as well as several on the west coast (Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, Los Angeles CC), the game plan for the PGA of America was simple -- secure key clubs in the middle of America because the timing for hosting was now more beneficial with the new May time slot.

Southern Hills, the host site for this week's PGA Championship, had long wanted to return to the forefront in hosting big time events -- the last coming at the '07 PGA. The club's leadership was also interested in hosting a fourth U.S. Open but the USGA was looking elsewhere. This week's event will showcase a classic architectural layout from the hands of Perry Maxwell and updated by Gil Hanse. 

The fan base for golf in the broader area is entrenched and the Tulsa market means the PGA will not have to compete for attention in a community with other professional teams in Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association or the National Hockey League. Although college football is a religion in Oklahoma -- the May time frame is ideally located on the calendar to shine rather than toil in the shadows of August when all the hype is centered on the start of the upcoming football season.

The first May PGA Championship event took place in 2019 at Bethpage State Park in Long Island, NY. The weather proved to be an issue at different moments and that may prove more of an issue when the '23 event is played at Oak Hill in Rochester, NY. Those two events, keep in mind, were signed when the PGA Championship was planned for an August time frame.

Having the PGA Championship occupying the second time slot after the Masters in April meant getting the golf season in full throttle mode. Having that time frame also meant a better likelihood in securing volunteers from both the host club and the broader community to assist in all aspects of the event.

The other dimension that clearly illustrates the future of the PGA of America was the decision in 2018 to move its national headquarters from the long-time location in Palm Beach Gardens, FL to Frisco, TX -- 30 miles north of downtown Dallas. 



PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh touted the move to Frisco as being potentially the "Silicon Valley of golf." Two 18-hole courses are planned along with a 10-hole short course. Ultimately, the PGA Championship is scheduled to be hosted there in '27 and '34. The possibility of a future Ryder Cup match held there is also a very real -- the earliest possibly coming in '40. The new facility called the Omni PGA Frico Resort is expected to open in April '23 and is the largest resort being built now in the United States. 

The Texas connection is ground zero in how the PGA of America views its future.



The PGA Championship this week at Southern Hills in Tulsa is the first step in not only rejuvenating a storied event at a classic venue but also in charting a new pathway proactively capturing all facets for what the PGA of America believes golf needs for the 21st century.

Ironically, the "mayday" the PGA of America announced just five years ago was hardly a distress signal but a galvanizing moment where the upside is looking more and more salutary.

It also helps having a 15-time major winner in the field named Tiger Woods who won the last PGA Championship at Southern Hills in '07

An impactful game changer now in motion. And that could well mean for the PGA Championship parity with the other major events in golf. Yes, timing clearly matters on a range of fronts with a positive tide now rising quickly.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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